LOTR War in North succeeds Dark Alliance

Dev Snowblind details gory action RPG.

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, developer Snowblind Studios has told Eurogamer.

"We feel that it is," said producer Ruth Tomandl. "We went back and looked pretty closely at Dark Alliance and looked at what really facilitated the co-op in that game, because a lot of people, including a lot of us, played that game on the couch with our friends.

"And we wanted to figure out what was it about that game that drove that and what we could improve on to make the co-op even more compelling.

"The trading system, the loot system in general - a lot of that stuff we really tried to optimise to make co-op as fun as it could be."

Lord of the Rings: War in the North spins a parallel story to the Lord of the Rings book and films. You'll bump into Gandalf and Aragorn and Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring, but your journey won't be theirs - yours will be heading north to face a menace called Agandur.

You'll also encounter the rarely depicted wizard Radagast, a peer of Gandalf and Saruman. You'll be helped along the way by the giant eagle Beleram, too, who you can summon using a golden feather item.

"There are always some people who have expectations that are so high that no game will ever be able to meet them."

Ruth Tomandl, producer, LOTR: War in the North

Co-op, loot, customisation and gory action are the beating heart of War in the North.

Co-op is available for up to three people either online or on the sofa (presumably for two). Your loot and character gains in co-op will persist and follow your adventurer from session to session.

But if you joined a friend far more powerful than you, items you pick up in that session won't persist when you leave. "We don't want people accidentally to ruin their single player experience," said senior game designer Jason Olander.

Most loot will be randomly generated, and you can trade items with friends in co-op sessions. Any chests encountered in co-op can be opened by all three characters to avoid squabbling.

Some boss-drops will be set, and you'll loot famous weaponry such as Bilbo's iconic Sting sword and Narsil - the blade that cut the One Ring from Sauron's finger, and which Aragorn reforged to command the Army of the Dead and lead Middle-Earth to victory against Sauron's army. But you won't loot Gandalf's staff, Snowblind confirmed.

War in the North has three available characters: a dwarf Warrior, human Ranger and elven Loremaster. They divide roughly into melee, ranged/melee and magic, although you can interpret them differently through customisation according to your will.

Each character will have race-specific abilities, and the dwarf can even unlock a secret area - an option we presume the other two races have as welll. On the topic of exploration, Snowblind said there will be "a lot" of side-quests.

"The Lord of the Rings is just one of those key franchises and key modern mythologies that has an endless pull for people. There's always a market of folk who want to explore Middle-Earth."

Jason Olander, senior game designer, LOTR: War in the North

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is on course for a UK 18 rating by the BBFC, although that hasn't been dished out yet. This will no doubt be awarded for "strong bloody violence", as limbs fly off, heads are severed and axes smashed into pie-holes.

Snowblind explained the maturity as coming from the pages of the Lord of the Rings book(s), "which are very violent", said Ruth Tomandl.

Middle-Earth Enterprises keep a close watch on Snowblind to make sure everything fits with the Lord of the Rings canon. But will the devout legion of Tolkein fans be impressed?

"We actually love it [that fans are so passionate]," Olander remarked. "A lot of us are huge Lord of the Rings fans, and so the reception from the community thus far has been really great.

"We're thrilled to be working within that licence. It creates its own challenges, obviously, in that you're working within such a beloved franchise with such a beloved storyline, but that just adds to the interesting challenge of having to design and create a game that does justice to Tolkein's lore and stories."

Tomandl continued: "There's always some people who have expectations that are so high that no game will ever be able to meet them. But generally the people that are really hardcore, very devoted fans that we've shown the game to have really liked it. And particularly that we're going to places that haven't been shown before, that's really exciting for them.

"Any depiction of those areas might fall short in some ways, but to really see it and be able to play through it - that's really thrilling for them."

What would Tolkein himself think?

"It's hard to say," Tomandl said. "He was very strict about interpretations of his work so I don't know. I hope that he would like it! Ha ha."

The Lord of the Rings won't have a cinematic accompaniment to ride the popularity of, although the Blu-ray Extended Edition of the LOTR Trilogy launched this summer and The Hobbit film is fast approaching. Nevertheless, Snowblind reckons The Lord of the Rings is timeless.

"From my view the pull is as strong as always," said Olander. "The Lord of the Rings is just one of those key franchises and key modern mythologies that has an endless pull for people. There's always a market of folk who want to explore Middle-Earth."

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is in development for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. This will be the first game build on Snowblind's new engine, which has the catchy name Snowblind 2.0.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North.

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